Sunday, December 4, 2016

Power Rangers Dino Charge Retrospective: Part 1

Well, this is it. Two years ago, Power Rangers Dino Charge premiered, to a raucous applause from the fans. Then, on November 19, 2016, the series ended. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a "what?!" from the fandom.
Generally speaking, I had high-hopes for this show. The characters had some good chemistry and charisma, for the most-part. The suits were kind of cool, and the mecha were as well. Even the collectible gimmick appealed to me on some level. Unfortunately, the series decayed over time into your typical Nickelodeon fare with dumb jokes, shenanigans, and generally stupid plots. The first episode of season two was slow and illogical, but it got better as time went on. Then things got stupid again for the middle of the season, and stayed like that until the last five or six episodes. I say "or six" because the last episode was about when things got strange again.
The false-climax around the middle of the series wasn't really a bad idea per-se, I love a good false-finish myself, but only when it's done well. The fact that the Dino Charge Rangers basically disbanded after Sledge's ship crashed without verifying their kill meant that they had to pull out plenty of nonsense to reunite the team, rather than continuing from last season straight up. Leave the team together, and just have the season end with them going out to investigate the derelict of Sledge's ship. That alone solves plenty of the problems I had with the show, and all you've got to do is change a few seconds in the end of the first season finale and the whole season two premiere and everything retains its momentum to some extent.
However, this isn't the biggest problem the series had by a long shot. We begin sixty-five million years before the present-day, and the main villain, Sledge, is chasing down some guy named Keeper to try and get ahold of the Energems he protects so he can give one to his girlfriend and they can get married.
Keeper then crashes on Earth, and he divests himself of the Energems, giving them to a rather odd motley crew of dinosaurs. Ten Energems handed off to seven herbivores and three carnivores. A T-Rex and a raptor who would have eaten Keeper as soon as looked at him. The rest could have stepped on or otherwise accidentally killed him rather easily. You know, I say ten, but there wasn't a Plesiosaurus anywhere to be found in that opening sequence, so I'm just a tiny bit confused by it all. Trust me, this will happen again later on.
Sledge's people then beam up the box that had the Energems in it, and it explodes. Sledge's ship then casts asteroids down on the earth, killing the dinosaurs.
At this point, I'm going into Mr. McNitpick mode, because frankly, this show doesn't deserve a willing suspension of disbelief.
First off, the prevailing hypothesis about the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (The extinction of the dinosaurs) is that a single asteroid or comet (Known as the Chicxulub impactor, after the crater near Chicxulub in Mexico) caused the extinction. Even in competing hypotheses, when someone brings up multiple impactors, we're talking about four sites in three different parts of the planet! Most of those rocks Sledge was hauling around would have been vaporized before they hit the ground! I don't even think there was a single rock in that net that could have caused a planet-wide extinction event! The smallest of the potentially-related craters, the Silverpit Crater, is twelve miles wide wide, and the impactor would have been at least four-hundred feet across, and would have weighed about two-million tonnes. As in, it still would have been bigger, and weighed more, than Sledge's entire ship.
Here's my reasoning behind this. According to the Power Rangers wiki, the Dino Charge Megazord is approximately 52.5 meters tall, which translates out to about 172 feet tall. However, that number seemed a bit off to me, like it was significantly too big, so I measured my Dino Charge Megazord with a ruler and got about 10.5 inches, which when put into the scale used by Dungeons and Dragons (5 feet for every square inch) gets you about 52.5 feet. Put that into Shadowrun's scale and you get 10.5 meters, about 35 feet. I can't find any official statistics on the Dino Charge or Dino Supercharge websites, and based on my previous analysis of Power Rangers mecha, I'm somewhat more inclined to go with my D&D-based numbers than the ones on the wiki.
To further back this up, let's rewind to the season one episode, "Sync or Swim," wherein the Rangers dumped a bomb on Sledge's ship. The bomb could be held in the Megazord's hand, and it was about the same size as the bridge of Sledge's ship, so that means the bridge of the ship is slightly smaller than the chest of the Megazord. Also, the bomb in that episode was about twice as tall as Tyler's Jeep Wrangler (Just considering what was on-screen, the top was cut off), this means the bomb is about 14 feet tall, probably more. (Assuming Koda is about six feet tall, and basing my calculations of the Jeep's height on that of the 2006 TJ model, give or take a few inches.) Based on interior shots of Sledge's ship, I estimate the bridge to be about eighteen to twenty feet by about eighteen to twenty feet, which just about matches up to my calculations about the bomb, and just about matches up with my estimates of the size of the Megazord. Not to mention that in the first episode of Season 1, "Powers From The Past" we clearly see the T-Rex Zord alongside Tyler and Shelby, and I could count its height in single digits if I stacked Tyler toe-to-head alongside it. From here, we can figure out the size of the rest of the ship. Assuming the tip of the ship is the bridge, we're looking at about a 100 foot-long ship with a 75-120 foot wingspan. As you can tell, this isn't merely a baseless assumption, I've done my research.
Even if Sledge did have the asteroid in tow that destroyed the earth, he shouldn't have been able to steer his ship properly, as anyone who's ever driven a car with a trailer that was above the vehicles weight capacity can tell you. It would swerve back and forth. Even in micro-gravity, the laws of physics still apply.
Now, not only does this part not match up with the science, it's contradicted by previously-established Power Rangers canon, namely that of Dino Thunder. The Dino Gems in that show were salvaged from the one rock that crashed into the Earth and killed the dinosaurs, not from a big shower of them. I haven't seen Dino Thunder yet, but I know a bit about the plot. Depending on the specifics of that show, the details may further contradict what happens in this series, we'll see.
Anyways, back in the present day, Tyler Navarro has been searching for his dad, an archaeologist ever since he disappeared. His search has led him to Amber Beach, California. There he learns of the Sampson Caves, the place where his father was last seen.
Tyler investigates the caves, finding the fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex within, alongside a mysterious, glowing red stone. A mysterious figure shrouded in black, something his father wrote about in his journal pursues Tyler through the caves, but he manages to escape.
At the Dinosaur Museum where Tyler learned of the caves, the curator, Dr. Kendell Morgan and her crew, Chase Randall and Koda leave to check out a fossil dig-site. Shelby Watkins, an archaeology student working at the Dino Bite Cafe within the museum. She wants to some along, but Morgan tells her no. She stows away with the team anyways though.
The figure who attacked Tyler earlier attempts to steal a crate from the dig-site, but Shelby and Tyler (Who has been following the creature since their encounter) intervene. Shelby drops the crate, and finds another strange stone within. The figure in the cloak reveals itself and attempts to freeze Tyler and Shelby alive so he can take those stones, the Energems from them. Unfortunately for him, the Energems keep the ice from holding onto them. Keep this in mind, this is very important, this is going to come up at least three times across two episodes, where this rather important event is going to be contradicted. Hard.
Anyways, the two of them gain fossilized Morphers, insert the Energems and Morph into the Dino Charge Rangers, Red for Tyler and Pink for Shelby. The fight with Ice Age before a rather strange-looking T-Rex shows up and kicks his ass to kingdom come before vanishing.
On their way back into the city, Tyler shows Shelby his dad's journal, with the picture of Sledge's footsoldier, Fury sketched within, as we see Fury stalking them in the distance.
Second episode shows us a farmboy named Riley practicing his fencing. His brother tells him to fetch some eggs. While doing this, Riley notices his dog, Rubik has wandered into the forest and appears to be barking at a rock. In fact, the dog is barking at Fury, who has come for an Energem in the vicinity. Fury makes to kill the creature, but Riley blocks the slash with a fence-post. He tries to drive Fury off with it, but the thing doesn't even scratch him. He manages to dodge Fury's slashes, which hit a rock. The Rock cracks open, and within the Green Energem is found. Riley grasps it, and his stick becomes a mighty Dino Saber, which with he fends off Fury.
Riley decides to take the Energem to the city, specifically to the museum to figure out what it is, but his bike breaks down on the way. He hitches a ride with Shelby and Tyler, but they find an overturned car with someone pinned beneath on their way. With their newfound strength, they are able to push the car off the person and save them.
They get to the museum, and through Tyler's own stupidity, they discover the location of the other Rangers. And on top of Fury still being alive, so is Keeper. With what we find out later, Fury and Keeper being alive sort of makes sense, but considering Sledge and all of his crew and prisoners are alive, I have a feeling the production crew wasn't all that fussed about internal consistency.
In the base, they find two other Energems docked in a crystal bed. The other three Energems fly to their docking station, which is when we find out that Koda and Chase are Rangers as well.
While in the base, Keeper explains (poorly) the history of the Energems and their basic abilities. Some things are defined clearly, others poorly.
They begin picking up strange readings from a volcano, Ice Age attacks the city, and this is when we find out for certain that Sledge is still alive.
This brings me to one of the most persistent issues with the series. Sledge has been kicking around the universe for millions of years, and never turned in any of the prisoners he has in his brig. Despite the fact that after the first few months of searching for the Energems, anyone with any sense would have turned in his prisoners for their bounties and pissed off to find something easier to use as a wedding-ring. There are eleven Energems, which means that (relatively speaking) platinum, gold and diamonds are literally several orders of magnitude easier to find. Not that one should have trouble finding something if they've got 65 million years to search.
Something to mention is that during my commentary videos on the series, I operated under the impression that Sledge had been hanging around the solar-system, laying low and searching the Earth for the Energems, while the rundown at the beginning of every episode states that Sledge was blasted "Deep into space."
My reasoning behind this is mainly the fact that the explosion that set him off-course wasn't particularly powerful, and his ship wasn't really moving all that fast. Plus, as we see that his ship appears to be incredibly powerful towards the end of the series, there's no way in hell he even made it to the outer planets before correcting his course.
This conclusion brings me to another point I made with frequency in my videos about this series. It requires a few assumptions to be made about the universe this show is set in. Namely, that they have the same level of science we do, and the same level of competency. Considering that in the Power Rangers universe humanity returned to the moon in 1993, there have been several government-led teams, civilians have developed Power Ranger tech on their own, there have been people who have built literal androids, and humanity is in contact with a number of alien races, I believe the former is a given. Hell, they've got better tech than we do. The latter however? Considering the level of obvious stupidity we've seen out of random people in the Neo-Saban era alone, I think it's safe to assume that around 2009-2010 in this universe, rather than the Venjix Virus infecting the worlds computers, the stupid virus infected the worlds humans, and we never really recovered.
But in all honesty, Doctor Who handled this incredibly well. Humans are the type of creatures who will create legends about anything, and when Amy Pond was locked in that cube for a thousand years, her husband Rory and the cube itself became legends. The Lone Centurian they called him, legends written about how he was always the protector of the cube and its contents no matter what. However, it seems like hardly anyone has noticed Sledge and his ship, or Fury even aside from the series leads. We've had telescopes for literally centuries, we've been looking up at the sky for longer than that, and we've been tracking interstellar objects for almost seventy years now. I have a feeling we'd have noticed him at some point.
Plus, how did Fury manage to survive the events of the In Space finale? Lord freaking Zedd didn't survive that! Rita Repulsa didn't! There wasn't a single villain left on Earth who wasn't sealed away left at the end of that series! This wouldn't be such a big deal if Judd Lynn hadn't also written "Countdown To Destruction!" Yeah, the Judd Lynn who was the freaking showrunner for this series, and the writer for, as far as I can tell, most of this series episodes!
Granted, it's been about a decade and a half since when In Space aired and the production of Dino Charge, but shouldn't they have a continuity manager working to make sure they never make these kind of screwups? Although, since the Neo-Saban production team appears to be lacking anyone willing to raise their hand and object when someone puts something incredibly stupid into the series, I'm not at all surprised that they don't.
Anyways, after they defeat the monsters, Dr. Morgan tells the Rangers not to reveal their identities to anyone, even family members.
To which I say, HAH! In this day and age, you can't keep something like that secret, especially when you go from civilian to superhero form the way the Rangers do. I've literally read fanfiction that handled this issue better than Saban does. IE, at all. Man of Steel addressed this, in that Superman basically had to tell the United States Government to knock off their surveillance of him by destroying one of their drones.
Anyways, I'm gonna list off the problems this concept has. First off, the Rangers always morph in plain-view of everyone present, and as you should know, everyone has a phone with a camera on it. Humans love to record weird things that happen. That's why we have footage of riots, terrorists attacks, natural disasters, etc. There should be plenty of angles on the Rangers morphing, considering the fact that 1) They're the only people who aren't running from the monsters, 2) they wear the same colors as their suits in civilian form and 3) They spend plenty of time between civilian form and morph with their faces exposed, there should be zero chance of them keeping their identities secret, from the public or the government! There have been plenty of criticisms of the Power Rangers for this in the past, but back in the 1990's, they had a damn good chance of not getting caught. It wasn't like everyone had a video-camera back then that they could fit in their pocket and whip out at a moments notice to start recording, something that we could then post on a worldwide information network which people are constantly scouring for something interesting. Back then you could reasonably maintain a secret identity with that kind of approach as long as you were careful. And for the most part, the original team was. In order for this team to accomplish that feat, however, they would have to morph and demorph exclusively in their base and only in the field when absolutely necessary. Even then, that would only preclude casual observers from figuring out their identities. The Rangers have a total of zero decent security measures on their base, so you can bet that the FBI has got bugs and cameras coating their "secret" hideout. Hell, a decently driven civilian could figure out where their base is, and from there could figure out who they were. All you've got to do is stake out the museum after you've tracked the Rangers down, see if there's anyone on the staff who regularly vanishes at the same time as monster attacks and you've got yourself a bona-fide breakdown of who the Rangers actually are. This is why MMPR had a base in the middle of nowhere, and why Jungle Fury basically didn't bother trying to keep their location secret.
I'll also get to the reasons why the Rangers keeping their identities secret is a horrible idea later on, because boy, oh boy are there a few massive freaking problems with this concept.
The third episode is where things really began to fall apart, firstly the fact that it establishes the status quo for the series, the Rangers working at the cafe for no reason whatsoever, and secondly because this is where they started glossing over major details with some heavy lacquer. This is the episode in which we find out for sure that Koda is in fact, a caveman. We don't find out many of the details of his character until the next episode, and the details of how he met the Ranger team are further pushed off to season two. Back in the Disney era, all these details would have been covered in one episode and fleshed out over the course of the rest of the series. In the Neo-Saban era, these details are forgotten until they're needed once more to drive the plot forward. But that's not the biggest failing of this episode. No, the largest failing is the fact that this is basically a filler episode, and yet it introduces the freaking Megazord. The fifty foot-tall thundering beast, the Rangers ultimate weapon, designed to perfection to be fast, dangerous, to soak up damage like a sponge and keep walking, and above all to be upgradeable at a moments notice should the situation demand it, is introduced in an episode that aside from the appearance of the Megazord and a few disparate character facts has nothing going for it. That's the recurring problem of this series as a whole, there are too many episodes where things just happen because they needed to fill air-time. Look back at episode two, there was no particular reason that they needed to have the Megazord form in this episode, the threat could have easily been handled by the individual Zords and nothing would have changed.
I'm no particular fan of the way Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers introduced the original Megazord. The Zords themselves had far too little time to stand on their own, and it might as well have been there just to showcase everything the show had to offer in a single episode. However, that was a clear and present threat for which there needed to be an immediate solution. The Megazord provided that solution in-universe in a swift and suitably monumental fashion.
Speaking of MMPR, back in the day, it was rather unique for a Ranger to take on a supersized villain in a single Zord. When Jason Lee Scott manned the helm of his immortal Tyrannosaurus alone against the monster of the week, it was seen as a testament to his ability as both a leader and a Ranger. The fact that he managed to do so in the less-maneuverable and far less deadly T-Rex Zord without any backup was awe-inspiring. It wasn't just a throwaway fight, that was something that everyone who saw it remembered. Then along came Tommy Oliver, one man on his own, who fought and defeated the rest of the team with his Dragonzord, a machine that was, on its own at least as powerful as the Megazord itself. My point is, you don't just throw away a moment like the Red Ranger icing the villain of the week off-hand, you either treat it as a desperate struggle, or you hold off on forming up the Megazord for a good long while until you actually face a threat that requires it. The time to form the Megazord was either in Episode 2, or later in the series. "A Fool's Hour" should have been cut from the episode lineup entirely, and everything important within rolled into "Return of the Caveman."
Speaking of which, that's talk about episode four! Or as I like to call it; Shenanigans: Or; We Don't Know What a Consistent Tone is!
Listen folks, I'm not the kind of fan who expects Power Rangers to be grimdark and serious all the time, god knows I love a good joke every now and again. Unfortunately for the Neo-Saban era, there aren't many good jokes in this series, just pratfalls, exploding food gags, and stupid writing. Equally unfortunately for them, I grew up with the original Saban-era and the Disney-era, back when the show had good jokes at the worst of times and phenomenal jokes at the best. In other words, this series had standards to live up to, and it failed, hard.
Oh, I'm certain these shenanigans elicited some form of laughter from what this show considers its "target demographic." Just a shame it won't from any of the old hands that have been keeping this show afloat for the last seven years.
Being a critic, I watch a lot of movies and television series, and a lot of those are ones aimed towards younger demographics. One of the shows I've been watching a lot lately is Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I'll admit, Star Wars is one of my favorite things ever, but that doesn't mean I'll lap up anything with the license attached, or accept a crappy installment just because it's Star Wars.
I have a number of points to make here. One of which being that I'm not one of those people who considers children's programming utterly atrocious as a rule. Another being that I'm not particularly blinded by nostalgia like some may accuse me of being. Yes, I like the series I grew up with and I don't like what's being put out now. However, there are clear, objective reasons why the Disney era and the original Saban era were superior to the Neo-Saban era in general and this series in particular. One of which being that the Disney and Fox eras never used the same joke more than maybe once or twice, more if it was something of a running gag. Even then, they didn't over-use them, and they were at least funny most of the time. This series panders to the little kid demographic with things that I guess are supposed to be jokes, but are just not funny.
Most of those jokes revolve around poor Koda, played by Yoshi Sudarso. Yoshi does his best to sell the humor, but it just doesn't work.
Episode four is titled "Return of the Caveman," and as suggested, this is a Koda-centric episode where the Black Ranger, Chase Randall (Played by James Davies) spends most of the episode trying to introduce Koda to the modern world. This makes a lot more sense after you've seen the first episode of season two, since Koda was frozen alive back during the Ice-Age. Would have been nice to have learned that during this episode, because those details would make this episode more tolerable. Well, maybe. Probably not, with all the bizarre shenanigans
The setup for everything that goes down here is Koda flashing back to his time living in a cave with his family. He finds the Blue Energem, but a horrible CGI Sabertooth Tiger attacks his brother. Koda tackles the tiger, the two of them fall off a cliff. Back in the present day, Koda awakens to the sound of a motorcycle.
Now, call me crazy, but isn't it a bad idea to run a motor-vehicle in an enclosed space like their command-center? I know they've got a lot of space, but unless those bikes run on... Whatever the hell Dino Chargers are charged with (And I doubt that, because it was making the kind of sounds an internal combustion engine makes) they're still running the risk of poisoning themselves and getting sick, if not outright dying. Gotta hope they didn't fire up more than one of those bikes in there.
Something else I would like to bring up; Where exactly does the one big door in the base lead to? The outside? We never really see anyone using it to wheel anything in or out, we just see people walking through it on occasion, and there's no way they got those bikes up the secret hatch in the mouth of the T-Rex head.
Anyways, after realizing there's no threat, Koda calms down slightly. Then Shelby's phone rings, and he attacks it.
Knowing that Koda is more Rip Van Winkle than Highlander, this is slightly more justified that I initially thought it to be. However, we still never found out how long he's been unfrozen. For all we know, he, Chase and Kendall could have been bumming around the museum ever since Samurai trying to find the other Energems. Which logically should have been plenty of time to adjust to the technology and whatnot. If they'd bothered developing Koda as a character before jumping into his focus episode, I could buy him being shook up by this, but the way everything is framed it doesn't work. Or more to the point, it's played for laughs when it really probably shouldn't be. It's called post-traumatic stress disorder, it's not supposed to be funny!
Anyways, Chase offers to teach Koda how to ride a bike. Fortunately, he gives him a decently-sized bike instead of a comedy kiddie-bike. Unfortunately, Koda has a helmet too small to fit on his head.
Maybe you should have had him wearing a motorcycle helmet, like the kind he'd be wearing when riding the Dino-Cycle so he can get used to the feeling. Or maybe they could have had him Morph and put him on the cycle. He should be alright like that. The Morphing Grid should handle all of that.
One of Sledge's prisoners, Slammer, goes out and tries to capture the Rangers and get their Energems. Chase gets captured because he's an idiot, but Koda manages to fend Slammer off for a while until he notices a stupid kid in danger. He and the kid get caged up, but the kids bike creates a hole in the bottom of the cage.
This brings me to a huge problem. The Rangers can basically summon their gear from nowhere. I don't know why, but they do. They also keep a bunch of Dino Chargers in their pockets at all times. There's no reason why Chase and Koda couldn't have morphed and busted their way out of those cages. They don't say anything about them being made of anything special, so as far as we know they're just steel cages. Considering the destructive capabilities of their gear, there's no reason that they shouldn't be able to get out. Slammer is, after all, just some criminal who makes cages. He's not Dai Shi or Lord Zedd, I don't buy him being able to hold a Ranger for more than a few seconds.
Anyways, Koda splints up the boys broken leg and makes a torch so he can see to get out of the cave. The other Rangers track a signal to their location, and they proceed to beat Slammer up with the Megazord.
This was one of the times when I realized that the show was going downhill. Not only could the conflict have been resolved stupidly easily, we don't even really explore the depths of the focus-character beyond the flashback at the beginning of the episode and a handful of scenes towards the middle and end! I found out more about Flit from Jungle Fury in a few minutes than I really learned about Koda in this whole episode!
Anyways, I've been working on this retrospective for two weeks now and there's no end in sight, so I'm going to split this up and get back to you next week with the rest of the rant-filled retrospective on the last two rancid years of wretched Ranger refuse. I'll see you guys then.
So, quick update. In addition to my Patreon, there's also an Amazon affiliate link you can use if you wish to support me. I've also made myself a new Amazon wishlist to go with the Amazon account I signed up for. Until now I was ordering things through my mothers account because it was more convenient. These days it's neither here nor there, plus since my ads are now served through Amazon that means I can get paid through there, as well as getting things I want. If anyone wants to send me stuff rather than giving me money, check out that Amazon wishlist. Also check out the old Amazon wishlist on the Donations page. I share the contents of that list with my mother, but there's an easy way to tell what I put on there from what she put on there. If it ain't video-games, DVD's, Blu-rays, electronics or toys, then it's likely not something I wanted, but if you want to buy something for my mother I'm sure she'd appreciate it.